Sunday, September 26, 2010


And how she loves it!

Washing dishes.


Washing (here, "helping" is making off with the basket, then standing in it while holding a stuffed crocodile toy).


Who needs pants!
It's a non-stop housework party round here!  I'm sure she's looking round saying "you know, we could do with more housework, Mum!" right now!  Me, I'd rather surf the net and watch TV - lol.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Living with a Wheelchair

You may have noticed if you read my blog that my step-daughter, Snail, is in a wheelchair.  I thought I would write a little about that, and show some of our photos, a photo essay on living with a chair.  I've been Snail's stepmum since I started living with her when she was 4.  She's 11 now.  She lives half the time with us and half with her mother.  Snail has cerebral palsy and epilepsy caused by pachygyria.  She can't walk unaided, and needs a chair.  She has moderate to severe physical and intellectual disabilities.  She's also filled with joy, mischief, and awesomeness.

  Snail, early 2010.
We try our best as a family not to be limited by our wheelchair.  We've taken it to concerts, to inconvenient landmarks (the Sydney Opera House has only one lift in the backstage area for wheelchair access!), on bushwalks, to the beach, and on picnics.   After all, it's not our Snail's fault that so much of the world is hard for her to access!  It's our job to try and make this of as little impact on her and our family's experience as we can.

This is why we bought a bigger family car :D.

Our boot looked like this if we went anywhere - this was a picnic and walk with the chair.  We got an eight seater Kia Grand Carnival this year, and haven't looked back!  Now we can go shopping with just one car! 

One thing I do love is Lolly's total acceptance of the chair as part of her world.  From her earliest days, she has pushed it, played in it, climbed it, sat on Snail in it, and gone for whirlwind rides in it with her brother ("Smash, the wheelchair is NOT an extreme sport!").

Lolly pushing the chair, not yet 2!

Wheeeeee!!! Having a ride with Smash.
Wheelchairs can be poignant....

They can be sad....

They can get you places...

And it carries the bag!  :D
Or stop you from getting places...

They can be fun...
Wheeled adventures after school.

They can be a pain for your brother... :D

Smash pushing the chair up a hill on a bushwalk.
He stacked it just after I took this!  :p

DinnerDad walking Snail up the same hill.

They represent what is wrong.  Here is Snail having a seizure at the beach.

That was a hard day.  But to be honest about our experiences, I want to include the picture here.  It's why I took it at the time.  Because all of this is part of our lives.  We can't look away.  We live it every day.  [Here is a link to how to manage a seizure if the person is in a chair - from Epilepsy Australia.]

So, here's to Snail's chair.  We hate it and we love it.  We wish more than anything she didn't need it, but given that she does, we're so glad to have it.

Though where the hell do you put it when she's not in it!  lol

And my final word on wheelchairs, when you see a woman coming who is pushing a kid in a chair, and wearing a toddler on her back, get out of the way!  She needs the space more than you do.  :D 

When Lolly was a small babe -
feeding Snail at a concert with Lolly in the Ergo!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Montessori Books

I've borrowed a few books recommended round the blog-o-sphere for those interested in Montessori in the home for the early years.  In my travels, I've found posts that are up front about the usefulness of Montessori things, books, equipment, philosophy and so on, to be the most useful, so in that spirit I thought I'd add my thoughts to those in the Interweb ether.

My local library had Tim Seldin's How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way

This is an easy read, and while it has some lovely ideas, as I'm from an attachment parenting, continuum concept background, there wasn't much new in there for me.  It would be a great book for introducing some of the concepts if you weren't familiar with them, but for me it was more of a skim read as I felt it very much preaching to the converted.  "Treat kids as human beings, include them in your life," yup, done that!  Lovely pictures, and a few ideas for practical stuff to do in the home, but mostly just a nice reinforcing read.  Not one I'd buy, and not in depth enough for me.  His simple description of phonics in introducing letters was great, though, I'm copying that page!

I also borrowed Elizabeth Hainstock's Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years.   This is simple and straightforward, with heaps of practical ideas, including how to make many materials yourself.  I got more out of this, despite how simple it is, or perhaps because of this.  I'd like my own copy of this one as a reference book, and can see why so many Montessori bloggers like this book. 

I have a copy of Montessori from the Start: the Child at Home from Birth to age Three, by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jensen, borrowed from the school's Nido library.  This is much meatier, with more philosophy and detailed explanations of the foundations of the method.  But it's what I'd term a full-on Montessori book!  It has that feel of "if you don't do this, your kid will be ruined!!11!!!" and the progressions are exact and intimidating. 

I struggle with it, as I'm from an approach that says my child will naturally learn what she needs to, simply by being given normal opportunities to do so, more of a Continuum Concept approach.  I don't think we need an obsession about exactly what age in days to introduce a smooth wooden ring on elastic in order to fully develop a child's ability to grasp or experiment with her power to affect matter.  I think given a normal supportive environment, she'll learn this herself.

There is a lot of good stuff in this book, but it feels overly complicated and more than a little proscriptive.  Some of the underlying approaches to attachment and compliance didn't ring true for me, either, but this is generally the case for me with Montessori.  There are several assumptions about attachment, including being against co-sleeping (in the same bed), normal breastfeeding, baby wearing, and so on, that I find difficult, actually, impossible, to swallow, given my own beliefs about how us humans evolved.  While I disagree with this stuff, I don't find it's a deal-breaker in terms of following other aspects of what I think is the more core Montessori philosophy, which is far more concerned with HOW children learn, and is actually far more continuum based - trusting the child, recognizing the innate drive to learn, the importance of peer to peer 'teaching' and modeling, a basic respect for the child as a whole person. 

It does bring up what is, for me, the fundamental issue I struggle with in Montessori, which is about separating the learning of children from our natural lives.  The focus on the environment of a classroom is a fair distance from my beliefs about children and natural learning.  BUT I also struggle with how much of an experience we can give kids given our lack of a tribe in which to introduce what they need to learn.  Hence our decision to school Lolly, rather than naturally unschool.  I'm not sure I'm accurately getting my ideas out here, and it's something I'll return to and blog more about.

Anyhoo, the book is a good read, overall, with a comprehensive exploration of the Montessori philosophy and method.  I'd like a copy for my own library.  But there is a lot here I don't agree with, and the whole books seems so proscriptive to me, and therefore alienating.  You have to read past that feeling to get at the core usefulness of the text.

Friday, September 17, 2010

What have we been up to this week?

Drawing with chalk outside.

Sorting and scooping is a very serious business.

 Excited about a new matching card game.

 Dinner time craziness!

Pouring rice using a cup and funnel.

Eating chocolate :D

Stacking and watching "dancing" after school - which is what Justine Clarke's DVDs are called round these parts.

Yesterday I got some easter egg molds at a seconds store for cheap.  I was unpacking them in the afternoon, and this is what I came out to find Lolly had done...nawwwwww!

I hurt my back yesterday afternoon, so this is what our lounge room looks like this morning (it hurts other than when I'm sitting down - lol).  Needless to say, the television is ON!!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Television - the Dreaded Box!

Television viewing is the secret shame of most parents I know.  No matter how well adjusted we appear with our self-regulatory arguments, even self regulator parents have a secret spot of shame about how much their kids view sometimes.  Other than super parents who don't have a television, all of us struggle with how much kids watch, and what they are watching.  So I thought I'd work through some of my thoughts on this here, though I freely admit it is an issue I feel a lot of conflict about.  It's not a referenced post, though I think I'll expand on some areas in later posts with references :D.

To view or not to view? 

We are obviously television viewers.  I harbour a secret dream of having some perfect TV-free life where we all play games, read, and discuss politics or something, but we live in a real, digital world, and I actually think it's part of what I have to guide Lolly through as she grows - viewing and managing various forms of media. 

My other main, and considerably less noble, reason, is that I get time.  I get to sit and have a coffee.  I get to pay bills.  I get to surf online.  I get to catch up on chores.  I get to cook dinner.  I get to write on this blog.  And so on.  I don't have to be "on".  And that's important to me.  In the absence of a tribe with which Lolly can play and interact, a LOT of the time it's just her and me.  So, in order to maintain some space, I view television as both a necessary and valuable thing, and a sometimes welcome distraction/"evil".

Those who have seen my house will be laughing at the idea that I need to "out" myself online as a TV viewer.  We have, I kid you not, a 60 inch plasma screen television that is the biggest thing you've ever seen.  Please ignore our lackluster curtains and drab stained carpet in this shot.  You can tell what our priorities were, giant TV or makeover for the lounge.  The TV won.  :D 

Watching Backyardigans.

I love this shot of Lolly at 15 months watching In the Night Garden.

OMG!!!!111!!  Pinky Ponk!!!  In other words, this is one serious television. 

How much to view? 

We are predominantly self-regulators, with a dash of "just No" thrown in - lol.  I think learning to regulate her own viewing is important, and to do that, Lolly needs the freedom to over-indulge and feel the effects of that (I think her ability to do this increases as she gets older).  But I also, at a practical level, reserve the right to say No on occasion, or to put the television on when it hasn't been requested.  My general policy is only to put it on when it is asked for.  Sometimes I might refuse if I think it's motivated by frustration, or comes at a bad time, like when we're getting ready to go out or have dinner.  Likewise sometimes I put it on when I need it on, like if I'm tired, sick, or frustrated.  This latter type of viewing is what I am trying to cut out entirely.

Self regulation with digital media has worked well with Smash, who is nearly 15.  He goes through periods of lots of screen time (he doesn't get much of a look in with the TV, but plays WoW) and periods of almost none.  I notice that on holidays there are days of almost solid TV/WoW, which dies down after he reaches saturation point.  I work in a similar way, so find it easier to understand.

My fundamental view is, that I watch television and use lots of digital media, and I'm fundamentally okay.  So why will my children be any different?  Some days I want to watch heaps (obviously I'm thinking pre-kids here) and others, none.  Some days I can sit and read all day (pre-kids - lol), some days I don't read at all (rare!).  Television is not evil. It's just a thing.  Another thing all of us need to deal with at some stage in our lives.  I'd rather not make it more attractive by being forbidden, and use it for what it does offer, a glimpse into other worlds, fantastic opportunities for education, and for entertainment.

If I did regulate, and I know some do this as their kids get older, I would probably go with a 'number of shows" approach, not time limitations.  Like, you can watch 2 movies, or 3 episodes of whatever, a day.  I think saying "only between 4 and 5 o'clock" or similar makes that time about television, not choice.  At Lolly's age, I'm not considering regulation, and in keeping with what I believe about self-regulation, I don't think it will be necessary.  It does involve a lot of trust that the child knows what they are doing, though!  It can be hard as a parent!

What to watch? 

Here, I am NOT a self-regulator, not with Lolly anyway.   I think regulating content is too much for small children, with no context in which to do it, and loads of natural curiosity.  Smash, well, we now let him choose what he likes, and have done since our last bastion of censorship fell by the wayside - South Park when he was round 12 :D.  Lolly and Snail, I control content.  Mostly for gender and praise, violence, and other negative social messages I want to avoid for as long as I can.

So what I do is allow free choice within a limited palette.  At 2 and a half, this is easy.  To be honest, I think kids generally choose shows that suit them anyway, so don't think this will be too much of an issue, but I may be eating my words in a few years, who knows!  Being fundamentally a self-regulator, I'd have to have a compelling reason to say no, too.

I try for shows with little or no obvious gendered behaviour and characters, and as little praise for nothing as I can.  Shows with music and dancing, and shows with real people, as well as animated stuff, are good too.  A minimum of violence, and appropriate treatment of children as little humans is a must.  We probably allow more violence than I'd like in an ideal world, as we have older siblings.

As she grows I anticipate increasingly allowing her a choice and voice, until I don't provide any "no"s at all.  This is what we did with Smash very successfully.  We had a couple of programs, Family Guy and South Park, that we didn't "allow" him to watch until he was 12 or so because of their style of content.  I think you need a well developed sense of irony to appreciate them.  We talked to him about it, and he always seemed fine.  I think by 11 or 12 he was so proficient at computing that continuing to "forbid" a program was a waste of time anyway, as he could easily access all that content online by then.  I'd rather watch a show with a child and talk about it that make it Golden and Forbidden.  It's about providing the child with a structure for approaching and understanding content, and making up their own mind within a supportive environment. 

So, what does Lolly watch?  Things I liked for Lolly very early years - In the Night Garden, Play School, Wonder Pets, The Upside Down Show (this one was her first obsession and she requested it All. The. Time for about 3 weeks, and they only made one series!!!  She was round 20 months then from memory), Peppa Pig, Timmy, Shaun the Sheep.

As she headed into the twos, we introduced movies:  Ice Age 1, 2 and 3 were her favourites (she still likes these), Madagascar, Wall-E, and unfortunately, Astro Boy (or Robot Guy as she calls it) which we watched with the family and she became obsessed with a few months ago.  Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Bee Movie are also popular.

Stuff she loves now - she's 2 and a half:

- The Backyardigans - this is a fantastic, creative show, that she has liked, on and off, for many months.

It's colourful and filled with music for younger ones, and she follows the stories and plot now she is older.  It's CGI animation, and the dancing is modeled on real dancers.  There are five animal characters who share a backyard who go on imaginary adventures each episode, with a different musical theme.  There are heaps of episodes, and I recently read they are making a new season this year!  The gender stuff is good, with three male and two female characters, and each character having turns in all the types of roles, king, queen, captain, knight, scientist, explorer, detective, pirate, journalist, superheroes, and so on.  There's a minimum of praise as it's all child characters talking to each other.  With simple stories and catchy tunes, I highly recommend it if you haven't seen it!

- Charlie and Lola - adorable, especially as Lolly has an older brother, too.

- Wallace and Gromit - she LOVES this, though it is a little scary on occasion, and can be violent (cartoonish of course).  Not many episodes, but they did do two films, thank goodness.

- Timmy Time , by the same animators who did Wallace and Shaun the Sheep.

Lolly recently went through an obsession with "Timmy on teevee!", I think because she moved beyond the cool colours and cute animals she liked as a younger tot, to the plots of each show - which are simple toddler problems like sharing and dealing with frustrations, and so on.  Timmy does have some episodes I culled, which included a "naughty step" - the opposite of what we practice here!  In general it is a little too "good" and "bad" for my taste, but manages to pass more generally because of it's simple young child issues, and managing emotions positively.  I would warn homeschoolers that it's about 'nursery' school.  Lolly doesn't go to school, though, and doesn't mind this at all.

- she likes some things as entertainment, I think, like Pingu, which she laughs at and says is "so funny."

- she watched Poko almost exclusively a month or so ago, but is off high rotation now.

It's a lovely gentle show that focusses on emotional intelligence and development in children.  Poko deals with upset and frustration gently and successfully.  It's lovely and bright, and Mr Murphy the monkey is a favourite round here.

- Shaun the Sheep is still a fave, and we all enjoy the show.

Intentional viewing.

This is the biggest change in television viewing for our whole family, and is a product of pay television and digital storage of films and shows.  Since we got our digital recorder, and Foxtel, we watch almost NO live television.  We record everything and watch when it suits us.  This has been the case since before we had Lolly.

The two main side effects of this are the almost complete lack of commercials, and that our viewing is more intentional.  We don't turn on the television and watch hours randomly, we are watching things we want to watch.  Now, if I'm honest, of course we still can be found with our bums on the couch for hours at a time, but at least we're watching things we are interested in rather than whatever we can get from four or five channels, at a particular viewing time, which is very much how it used to be sometimes long ago in pre-digital eras :D.

For kids, the lack of commercials is truly fantastic.  I can't really overstate just how awesome it is.  And intentional viewing, while it may not be truly ideal in terms of Lolly's brain, is still involving choice, preference, lets her explore a show over and over again while she learns what she likes to from it, and memory and communication as she finds ways to ask for what she wants.

Negotiation is a big thing, too, when all of us are watching, or even just Lolly and Snail.  For example, Snail LOVES Blue's Clues, and would watch it every time the box is on if allowed to.  In my pre-Lolly days, I watched a complete shed-load of Blue's.  Lolly likes Blue's, but she just doesn't have the single-minded focus of the Snail.  So Snail's request is always "Blue" and Lolly's is most often "not Blue."  I've started negotiation with Lolly (Snail finds this hard, it is a little beyond her other than "not now, soon" or "first this, then Blue"), first Blue's for Snail, then your show (or the other way round).  It works about half the time - lol.  On less than ideal parenting days, I go with whoever will whinge the least (usually Snail). 

So, that's our television truths.  Lolly watches from 3 or 4 hours to no hours a day, but normal for us is a couple of hours spaced over the day being normal, especially when we have Snail as well.  After school I do tend to put on the television for them, and they wander and play around it.  I try as much as possible to have television free time, and this is increasing as Lolly gets older.  I don't make a big deal out of it, I just leave it off!  My main "rule" now is that Lolly or Snail have to request the show.  So the television is off unless something particular is requested.  This is working well, and I'm hoping will limit "default" viewing.  I also quite often turn it off altogether if neither girl is still watching. 

How much television do your kids watch?  How and why do you control it?  We're all curious, let's be upfront!  :D

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Watching and learning.

I LOVE this age - Lolly seems to be expanding in all directions, language, interests, sense of humour, independence, it's just a joy to watch.  I think what a lot of parents at this age feel is what on earth can I do with a toddler all day?  I used to find days at home intimidating, partly because it falls totally on me to "keep her amused" and is, somehow, a lot more work than if we go out visiting, to the shops, to the library or playground.  While I do (and always have) included her in whatever I do, my work is computer based, and leaves her with a lot of time where I'm computering and she's doing...what?  Television, or tasks where she wants me to participate too, which causes both of us annoyance.  I think a certain amount of this competing needs is normal, and can't be avoided, I do think setting up interesting things to do, and making sure they stay fresh, really helps both of us.  Me to get some time, and her to develop and stay challenged.

Nothing to see here!

Once we started at Nido at the Montessori school (which we still struggle to attend regularly because of our many and varied illnesses this year), I started building on some things we already did with Lolly to keep her interested and engaged when she felt like doing things at home.  In the interests of honesty, I have to say a big goal of mine is finding things she likes to do without me.  Toddlers are draining, and all of us have times when we'd rather be mindlessly surfing the web, reading a book, or *gasp* even doing housework.  While I do a lot of this stuff with Lolly, I have times where I'd just rather be quick than instructional.  I have plans to start a doctorate (I confess, this will be my second attempt!) in the next few months, so time to study and read is getting to be a priority, too.  Sorting and containers are the best for this at the moment.  She loves to sort and swap things (things that make noise, like marbles or coins) from one container to another, carry them round, then find something else to put 'em in!  In the mornings when she's bright and fresh, she can amuse herself productively for ages with variations of these tasks.

Hence exploring activities and challenging things for a toddler/young child to do!  Reading Montessori work, particularly blogs, has been fantastic.  The biggest effect has been my approach to organisation.  I'd always been fairly organised with her toys, and only had a limited palette out for her, but have now got more systems in place, and much less clutter.

I love seeing this pay off.  For example, she has never asked me to play with her train set, we had only ever done this as an introduced activity, usually when DinnerDad and I want to watch television and she's not interested in the show.  You can get another quarter hour of parental viewing time out of her with trains :D.  The trains had been in a box on her shelves, taking up space.  I shifted them to an open drawer in her storage box in her room on the weekend, and showed her where they are.  This morning she went in, asked for the drawer to be taken to the lounge, and set up this by herself while I made coffee and toast.  She has not been able to fit the pieces together herself before either.  So, wow!

I do spend a lot of time with her while doing chores.  She particularly likes washing up.  We did have a breakage this morning, but generally this is not a problem.  I just clean up without comment, if you have anything desperately precious, I'd suggest storing it while your kids are this age!  Here she is assisting me.  This stool was a great buy, though it can be a tad slippery when just on the tiles.  It's bulky, but she can carry it herself.

She seemed to want more water play, so I tried a new easel activity (still trying to keep her interest in the easel up!), water painting on the chalk board - which I read here at the Artful Parent.  She did this for 10 minutes or so, but really wanted me to participate, which wasn't on the cards :D.  ETA - she went back outside to do more of this in the afternoon, which was nice. 

While I wrote the first part of this post, this is what Lolly did:

Now how adorable is that!

PS I wrote this yesterday and only now finished off the photos :D.

Things I let slide Tuesday!

I get a good look under my couch all too often, this might be TMI but it's visible in silhouette from the toilet - lol.  I have been meaning to move the couch, clean out underneath, and vacuum there, but have failed to do this for many many months.  Here is an arty upside-down photo of some mess under there :D.  They look like UFOs, and there is SO much dog hair!  :-o

Setting up a drawer in the kitchen for Lolly - I haven't done this yet either, though it's one of those things I think of nearly every time I'm in there!  I'd like the bottom drawer to have her bowls, cutlery and some tupperware boxes of snacks she can select and open.  I want a spot in the fridge shelves like this too.  We can't really leave food out as we have a dog, so this is the closest thing to it.

Oh, and I still haven't done anything from the last list either :D  We've been having way too much toddler fun to do too many chores!!

Monday, September 13, 2010

This week's shelves.

After our big tidy up and sort on the weekend, here are Lolly's shelves for this week (these are in our lounge room)!

The top shelf has a great shape/colour/number puzzle I picked up a Crazy Clarks of all places, half price, so only $5!!  It's wood (but was made in China).

Lolly enjoys both the puzzle and the solid blocks it's made of.  Next to that is the sorting box.  Next shelf down has a bucket of beads I bought (as the toy library ones were very popular).  I used laces from a lacing activity she's not ready for yet, they're so colourful!  She has bought me this activity several times since I put it out.

I'm trialling a small basket of blocks, after reading that kids often find vast collections of blocks overwhelming, and that smaller selections were more approachable.  No interest in it yet, I plan on getting it out to play with today.

Next to that are some favourite library books, and on the bottom shelf are some puzzles from the toy library, and the rest of the library books.  I'm not happy with storing them all here, and plan on moving them to a plastic bin in the other half of the lounge near our rocking chair, trying to use that space more.

Wow, I sure have a lot to show today!  On the off chance you're still reading, here is the shelf under the TV -

Two lots of stacking blocks (the second wood ones are from when she was small, and only have three pieces), and two plastic containers with some coins in it - or "pennies" as Lolly calls 'em!  She loves pouring them out and sorting them, then putting them back in another container, and then doing it all again!  She has been playing with the blocks several times a day lately, stacking them correctly by size, and also toying with stacking them incorrectly and laughing when they fall down (or get knocked over.  I have to laugh as I'm on the couch writing this, and she's built the blocks right next to me, up to number 3 as she can't reach any higher when they're on the couch.  So cute!!  She does this so often, and the pink tower is such a big part of early Montessori, that I am thinking of buying another set, as this one is missing number sever, throwing out the careful gradations of the tower.  I spotted a playschool set at the ABC shop that might be a present from me once I get paid this week :D

Here is her work table today: marbles again.

In the play area behind our couch, I set up some dolls.

Lately Lolly has been interested in feeding dolls and putting them to bed, so I dug out Snail's old doll bed, and put two dolls out (it's VITAL to have one for each of the girls!! This avoids most of the screaming - lol).  There is a little stroller that goes here too.  I'm planning on adding some toy food, and some cups and plates.  Those who know me will know I do NOT plan on putting out bottles, we're breastfeeders here!! 

I'll do an update on what she likes and has been playing with later this week.  :D